Ending enforced disappearances: a matter of urgency for the sake of humanity and justice
Speech by Mr. Jakob Kellenberger, President of the ICRC, Official ceremony to mark the opening for signature of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, Paris - 6 February 2007
Your Excellency, Minister for Foreign Affairs,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I warmly thank the French Government for inviting the ICRC to take part in this ceremony.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which is being opened for signature today, betokens great success and fresh hope. It symbolizes success for all those who battled for its adoption; I am thinking first and foremost of the families of disappeared persons, who are represented by Ms. Ocampo at this ceremony, but I am also thinking of the States which supported this process. France's particular tenacity and commitment greatly contributed to its success. This Convention likewise embodies the hope that, in future, a curb will be put on enforced disappearances, which cause thousands of families indescribable anguish, fear and sorrow. The delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross witness this distress in their daily work.
In wartime, forced disappearances constitute a violation of international humanitarian law and at all times they are a violation of international human rights law. They negate the very existence of the human being and deny the person in question the basic legal protection to which every man or women is entitled, no matter whether they are guilty or innocent. It is also a violation of the rights of the missing person's next of kin.
The ban on enforced disappearances, like all the rules of humanitarian law, admits of no exceptions. No war, state of emergency or pressing national security concern warrants such disappearances.
The ICRC works tirelessly to prevent enforced disappearances. Every year, half a million detainees benefit from its visits to places of detention. Its delegates facilitate the exchange of tens of thousands of personal messages between detainees and their families.
Registering the identity of each detainee is an essential tool used by the ICRC throughout the world to strengthen their protection. The ICRC instituted this procedure for all detainees held for security reasons in South America in the seventies in an attempt to counter the very government practices which initially prompted action in favour of this Convention. Registration makes it possible to keep track of individual detainees and to actively search for them if the need arises. It serves as a means of scrutiny and has a dissuasive effect on authorities, thus helping to prevent disappearances.
The ICRC can therefore only welcome the fact that this Convention lays down a whole series of practical rules, including that which requires that any person deprived of liberty must be registered by the detaining authority. It also establishes the right of families to know what has happened to their next of kin. Moreover, the International Conference of Governmental and Non-Governmental Experts on the Missing, organised by the ICRC in 2003 as the culmination of a long exchange of experience worldwide on missing persons and their families, issued recommendations to the same effect.
Unfortunately, these preventive measures will not always suffice. Hence the importance of the punitive framework put in place by the Convention. States which s ign and ratify it undertake to make enforced disappearance an offence under their national criminal law. Such a system of individual responsibility and punishment, coupled with the political will to implement the Convention and to punish the perpetrators of such crimes, is vital if this instrument is to be effective.
Before I conclude, I would particularly like to pay tribute to the courage of families who are kept in complete ignorance about the fate of their missing relatives. Their lasting struggle to seek a remedy for the injustice done to them and to prevent its reoccurrence commands our admiration and respect. They deserve the support of the community of States and the public as a whole.
Stamping out enforced disappearances is a task which must be carried out as a matter of urgency for the sake of humanity and justice. The ICRC is pleased to note the presence of many representatives of States at this signing ceremony and hopes that the Convention will enter into force as soon as possible in as many countries as possible.